Court of Appeal: AG’s alleged threat against death row prisoners’ counsel M Ravi “might reasonably have been construed as intimidating”

Mr Ravi said he feels gratified by the Court of Appeal's vindication of his position

In a Court of Appeal judgment handed down on Thursday (13 August) in relation to the case of two Malaysian death row inmate who applied for a halt on their execution, the Court found that alleged threat made against their lawyer M Ravi by the Deputy Public Prosecutor Wong Woon Kwong “might reasonably have been construed as intimidating”.

The judgment read,

“The Statement itself indicates that Mr Wong was instructed to reserve the AG [Attorney General]’s rights, and these instructions must have come before the PTC (pre-trial conference) and not in response to Mr Ravi’s conduct during the PTC. The lack of specificity also meant that Mr Ravi was not aware of what he ought to refrain from doing to avoid the consequences.”

“In the circumstances, we think the Statement might reasonably have been construed as intimidating.”

Addressing this judgment in a Facebook Live video on the same day, Mr Ravi noted that the Court of Appeal also highlighted the observation made by Justice Valerie Thean in the High Court that “a specific reservation of costs would have served the technical purpose of giving notice and if there had been specificity, there would have been no opportunity for a misunderstanding between the parties.”

It continued, “The Judge observed during the proceedings on costs that the Statement might be seen as discourteous.”

Mr Ravi said: “What emanates from this judgement is the observation of the Court of Appeal on the observation by the High Court judge that this statement against me might be construed as discourteous and might be reasonably seen as intimidating.”

He stressed that the two “cardinal principles” lawyers vowed to uphold is to defend their clients fearlessly and without favour. He added, “And that particular part of the fearless advocacy is protected against the Latimer House guidelines that is observed amongst the commonwealth nations.”

According to the court documents sighted by TOC, at a pre-trial conference on 4 February, the AG’s solicitor Mr Wong requested for an application relating to the case to be heard on an urgent basis and said, “I am also instructed to state that we are expressly reserving all our rights against Mr Ravi.”

In his video, Mr Ravi said that this concerned him greatly, particularly due to the vagueness of the statement.

“I did highlight to the Court that it’s not just they are reserving rights against me, the AG said that they are exploring all options available to the government, and which I was very concerned about because this is very vague. It is a broad thread that emanated from the AG,” said the lawyer.

As such, he added that he was “extremely gratified” and felt “vindicated” by the Court of Appeals’ observations on the issue.

He said, “I’m extremely gratified to know that the Court of Appeal has vindicated my position in respect of what I have stated, in respect of reservation of rights of the government against me personally and that which my client took out an application to say that it is tantamount to threat.”

He added, “This pronouncement of the Court of Appeal is also important to the Singapore Bar and defence lawyers because we have a cardinal duty… when we are facing state missionaries and various organs of the state, to actually defend our clients interest fearlessly and also uphold what I referred to earlier, the Latimer Guidelines which are that the lawyers should uphold the rights of their clients fearlessly.”

In the Court of Appeal judgment sighted by TOC, it found that there was nothing in Mr Ravi’s conduct to have triggered the threat from prosecution.

However, it also ruled that it did not find the statement made against Mr Ravi to be a breach of his client’s right to counsel or a fair trial, as argued.

Background

In February, Malaysia-based human rights group Lawyers For Liberty (LFL) urged Singapore’s AGC to withdraw the alleged threat made against the Singaporean lawyer of the two Malaysian death row inmates.

LFL alleged in a statement on 5 February that the AGC had “launched an attack” upon M Ravi during a hearing in the High Court for the case filed by Datchinamurthy s/o Kataiah and Gobi s/o Avedian.

The application was made by the two Malaysians against the Attorney-General and the Home Affairs Minister for the purpose of halting their execution and to provide protection for a former Singapore Prison Services (SPS) officer who is willing to testify regarding their case.

According to the court documents sighted by TOC, at a pre-trial conference on 4 February, the AG’s solicitor Mr Wong Woon Kwong had said, requested for the application to be heard on an urgent basis and said, “I am also instructed to state that we are expressly reserving all our rights against Mr Ravi.”

Mr Ravi, in response, asked if that was a threat against him. His concerns were recorded twice by the assistance registrar, according to the document.

In their statement, the LFL said, “This means that the all-powerful Singapore AGC is dangling the threat of criminal proceedings or punitive action upon M Ravi, should he proceed with this controversial case.

“This is like a sword of Damocles left hanging upon M Ravi personally.”

Mr Ravi then, on behalf of his clients in one of the summons, filed for a declaratory relief that the threat breached their rights to a fair hearing. In respect of the other case, he submitted that statement made by Mr Wong was an “implied threat to commence civil, criminal and/or punitive proceedings” against the lawyer which compromised the independence of counsel which in term infringes on the rights of his clients to counsel and a fair hearing.

The AGC, however, countered that there was “no ‘real controversy’” and the statement was “merely a salutary reminder to Mr Ravi to conduct himself properly”, adding that the act of reserving rights was a common legal parlance that did not amount to a threat.

Mr Francis Ng SC who appeared on behalf of the AG in one of the summons said, “The AG was merely keeping his options open, including the option of seeking costs personally against Mr Ravi. In any event, no identifiable constitutional right had been breached.”

He continued, “As for the allegation that the Statement breached the right to a fair hearing, there was no suggestion that the High Court could not conduct a fair hearing or that Mr Ravi could not act independently for the appellants. Mr Ravi had, in fact, continued to act for the appellants, and he must therefore have been unconcerned about the alleged threat.”

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